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Pentagon plans to release US citizen held in Iraq, Justice Dept. tells court

The Defense Department intends to release an American citizen accused of fighting for ISIS, according to a Justice Department filing Wednesday night.

The unnamed individual has been detained as an enemy combatant in Iraq since September. He was turned over to American forces by a US-backed militia fighting ISIS in Syria.

The Justice Department said the US plans to release the dual US-Saudi national in a town in Syria, the name of which was not provided, no sooner than 72 hours from the time of the filing. The department notified the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the man, of its intent and the man “would not agree to the release” as described, the government wrote.

“Accordingly, out of an abundance of caution, the Department is filing this Notice of its intent to release Petitioner in the town specified in the Declaration,” the filing says.

The move comes as a federal judge in DC mulled an ACLU challenge to the man’s detention, which had drawn unprecedented judicial scrutiny to the US’s legal underpinning for the war on ISIS. If the release is allowed to go through, it would render the challenge essentially moot.

When asked about the announcement, ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz condemned the government’s plan, calling it a “death warrant.”

“The government has effectively admitted that it has no reason to continue detaining our client and that he does not pose a threat. But, instead of offering a safe release, they want to dump an American citizen onto the side of the road in a war-torn country without any assurances of protection and no identification. This is a country that the government itself has classified as an absolute ‘do not travel’ threat, encouraging citizens to ‘draft a will’ and ‘leave DNA samples with [their] medical provider[s]’ in the event they decide not to heed the government’s warning,” Hafetz said in a statement.

“What the government is offering our client is no release — it’s a death warrant. This is a disgraceful way to treat an American citizen. Now, our fight for our client’s right to due process has also become a fight for his right to life. We’ll be asking the court to immediately intervene and ensure the safe release of our client,” the statement continued.

In April, CNN reported that the government had been denied permission to transfer the man to a country with a “strong” and “sovereign interest” by a DC district judge.

Last week, another court filing indicated the Defense Department had made an “inadvertent breach” of the individual’s confidential communications with his attorneys but had committed to steps to remedy the situation. CNN reported that the Pentagon had recorded several phone calls between the detainee and his attorneys, but the Pentagon said it “deeply regrets” the “inadvertent breach” of attorney-client communications, according to the filing.